During his first few years at Hamilton, Keith Wellin ’50 was enjoying college life perhaps a little too much. As a junior he approached Dean Winton Tolles and asked about the possibility of gaining admission to Harvard’s Graduate School of Business Administration. The dean’s reply? “Mr. Wellin, surely you jest.”
This was exactly the motivation the young Wellin needed. “Keith felt very fortunate for his success, and he credited Hamilton,” said his wife, Wendy Wellin. “The dean and the College stood up to him and made him face the music. He never forgot that.”
Keith Wellin, who would become a Wall Street executive and Hamilton life trustee, died in 2014. His recently announced estate gift of nearly $22 million is the single largest gift in the College’s history. The funds provide $19 million to establish an endowed student scholarship fund with the remainder coming as gifts of art.
“It’s hard to overstate the importance of a gift like this. Keith’s extraordinary generosity and long-standing devotion to the College, combined with Wendy’s continuing involvement, will help countless students secure the benefits of a Hamilton education,” said President David Wippman.
Like his Hamilton education, the journey to financial and business success was one that Wellin never took for granted. His parents endured hardships during the Depression. After graduating from high school outside of Chicago, Wellin attended The Citadel, the military academy in Charleston, S.C., for a year before entering the U.S. Army in 1945. Commissioned as an officer, he served during the final months of World War II and was stationed as a second lieutenant in Korea after the war’s end.
Discharged in 1947, he enrolled at Hamilton where his leadership skills blossomed. He was elected president of the freshman class and served on the Honor Court, the Student Council, and as an editor of The Spectator. Thanks to an enthusiastic letter of recommendation from Dean Tolles, Wellin did gain admission to Harvard and earned his M.B.A.
Wellin returned to Chicago to work for E.F. Hutton as a broker. Proving a knack for picking stocks, he advanced rapidly, becoming the company’s president at age 39. In 1971, he joined Reynolds Securities as senior vice president. Named president three years later, he was appointed executive vice president of the newly formed Dean Witter Reynolds Securities in 1978. Wellin took on increasing executive responsibilities with the firm, becoming its vice chairman in 1982.
Throughout his career as a leader in the securities industry, Wellin maintained close ties with his alma mater. He served as a charter trustee from 1969 to 1975 and again from 1986 until he was named a life trustee a decade later. During those years he lent his wise financial counsel as a member and chairman of the board’s investment committee.
He also drew upon his personal resources to fund such building projects as the Carol Woodhouse Wellin Hall in Schambach Center, named in memory of his first wife; the expansion of Hamilton’s science facilities, including the Taylor Science Center, which features the Wendy and Keith Wellin Atrium; the Wellin Performance Courts in the Little Squash Center; and the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art, named for his parents and dedicated in 2012. His $10 million contribution to the latter, made jointly with Wendy, reflects an affection for art inspired by his parents, and especially his father, who was an amateur painter.
Like her husband, Wendy Wellin has a lifelong passion for the arts. After attending Williams College, she completed an educational program with Sotheby’s Institute of Art. She maintains ties to Hamilton by serving as an “honorary docent” for the Wellin Museum, hosting student docents for lunch when she visits campus and Zooming in for meetings. She also serves on the Wellin Museum Advisory Committee.
“Keith loved connecting with Hamilton and was inspired by how many lives can be touched and changed,” she said. “I always said to him that it must be something they put in the water up there [at Hamilton] that makes everyone affiliated with the College feel so wonderful and proud.”
Over many years, Wellin also supported numerous endowment funds for faculty, scholarships, and program support, often to honor fellow Hamiltonians who made a difference in his life. His overall giving to the College totals approximately $36.5 million.
In 1999, the College recognized his career achievements and contributions to Hamilton with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.